“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, ‘Sit here while I go and pray over there.’ And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” Matthew 26:36-38 (NKJV)
As we look at this passage we see that Jesus is experiencing the worst sorrow and suffering He’s ever known. He knows full well what is coming. He knows that one of His disciples is about to betray Him. He knows that all of His disciples are about to abandon Him. He knows He is about to face the rejection of the entire nation. He knows that He is about to be brutalized by the Jews and the Romans alike. He knows He is about to take God’s wrath and experience separation from God.
Jesus decides that He will spend the last hours of His earthly life praying to His Father. So He takes the 11 disciples that remain, Judas has already left to go and get soldiers, and He goes to a quite place to pray. He takes all 11 in and then He tells 8 of them to stay and pray. He then takes James, John and Peter further into the Garden so they can pray with Him separated from the others.
His request is filled with emotion. In my mind, I hear His voice wavering and breaking as He tells them His about His sorrow and asks them to pray with Him. Here our Savior confesses that He is exceedingly sorrowful, even to the point of death. The word “exceeding” lets us know the intensity of His suffering. The anguish of soul our Savior feels is like a crushing weight. The sorrow and suffering He is now feeling is so intense He feels as though it would take His life all by itself.
Luke’s Gospel tells us that as Jesus prays His agony is so intense that His sweat came like great drops of blood (Lk 22:44). There is a medical condition known as hematidrosis that can cause a person to sweat blood. Generally, it only comes when a person is under the most severe forms of stress. The wording in Luke could also be taken to mean that He sweat so much that it was like blood gushing. Either way would be acceptable given the wording because they both would demonstrate the extreme levels of stress He was under and the sorrow He felt.
If possible, His suffering is increased when he came back and found the three men closest to Him in the world could not stay away and pray with Him for even an hour (verse 40). I grew up hearing preachers and teachers criticize the disciples for this. Before we take this position, we need to ask ourselves, “When was the last time I prayed for an hour?” On top of the fact this was either late at night or early in the morning and they had been up for a very long time. They were also in a cool garden, in the dark. Could you have stayed awake for an hour under these circumstances? I would love to say that I could but I’m not sure this would be an accurate statement.
What we see from this is that Jesus is alone. All human supporters have left Him. One has agreed to betray Him and the others simply can’t stay awake long enough to pray with Him as He wants them to. Jesus would have to fight this battle alone.
Have you ever been in a place of suffering and sorrow like this? A place where the sorrow is so great that it feels like it will kill you. This is the kind of sorrow that causes you to cry until your eyes hurt and you run out of tears. This is the kind of sorrow that causes physical pain as well as emotional pain.
Have you ever gone through a time when you felt utterly alone? There was no one that understood what you were going through. There seemed to be very few people that cared about what you were going through. There didn’t seem to be anyone that would consistently help you in what you were going through.
Have you ever been in a place like this? This is Gethsemane. It is a place of dreadful suffering, bitter sorrow and terrible loneliness. It is a place that can overcome us if we aren’t careful.
This kind of suffering and sorrow can have a soul-destroying affect on our lives if we try to bear it alone. That’s why Jesus prayed to His Father in Gethsemane. We cannot bear this sort of suffering and sorrow on our own, have God’s help. This means we must pray.
For further study read Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is considered to be Messianic Psalm. This means that in one way or another it refers to Jesus or describes something that was going on in His life. While Psalm 22 is a Messianic Psalm it is also a Psalm of David that describes an event in his life.
What event in Jesus’ life does this Psalm seem to describe?
How did David feel at this point in his life?
What does David do at this point in his life?
How is the end of the Psalm different than the beginning?
How can prayer help you when you are experiencing Gethsemane as a place of suffering?